White Zombie (1932)

Rating: **
Review Date: 6/17/13
Cast: Bela Lugosi

Classic zombie fare that benefits from a wonderful performance by legendary Bela Lugosi. A young couple is about to be married in New York, but a wealthy plantation owner persuades them to get married in Haiti instead. On their way there, they encounter the mysterious Legendre (Bela Lugosi with ridiculous eyebrows) and his entourage of zombies. Not the flesh eating kind, but the classic voodoo kind: soulless creatures, sapped of free will, and enslaved by supernatural magic as cheap labor in a sugar mill. The plantation owner is desperately in love with the young woman and plans to do whatever is necessary to make her his own, even if that means making a deal with Legendre to turn her into a zombie. But zombie love is tough and unrequited, and all too late he discovers the folly of his ways.

Unfortunately, the original print of the film has suffered horribly, and several chunks of dialog are missing. The visual effects are ambitious, but not entirely convincing. The zombie makeup is quite good, and the zombies are both creepy and sympathetic. The story is decent and the sets and locations are wonderful. While the acting is mostly uninspired, Bela Lugosi is in excellent form and tears through every scene he's in. He's a smart, classy, and well spoken man who mostly minds his own business, but when opportunity knocks, evil just oozes out of him. Like most horror films of the time, the true horror is implied and never onscreen, which sometimes leads to confusion as to what's going on. At one point, a doomed man sees a vulture in the window and yells at Legendre, "No! You can't! It's too cruel!" I never could figure out what was so scary and threatening about the bird, and the film never followed through. Perhaps it's a cultural reference that's been long forgotten. Regardless, it's good stuff for fans of classic horror and a refreshing take on zombie lore.